Tampa Bay Rays Stuck in Rotation Chaos Once Again


A lot of things have changed for the Tampa Bay Rays since the beginning of the season. They are gaining confidence as they continue staying right in the thick of things in the AL East, and it doesn’t seem quite as crazy to say that they have a real chance of winning the division. In regards to the health of their pitching staff, however, nothing has really changed. Matt Moore has advanced his timetable, but Alex Cobb is set to have Tommy John Surgery, Drew Smyly is back on the DL with shoulder soreness, and Jake Odorizzi is missing his start today with the flu.

Matt Andriese was recalled for today’s game to replace Odorizzi, but there are some reasons for concern. Andriese was optioned to Triple-A Durham by the Rays on April 28th, but he appeared in just one game with the Bulls, a 40-pitch relief stint on May 2nd. With that in mind, he is starting today on six day’s rest having thrown 40 pitches in the previous 12 days. It’s deja vu for Andriese, who threw just 30 pitches in the nine days before his first start on April 14th.

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The bigger concern is Andriese’s ability to perform. Andriese had his moments during his time with the Rays, but overall he managed just a 5.54 ERA and 4.8 K/9 in 13 innings pitched. He forced a 56.3% groundball rate, but lefties hit him like crazy, hitting to a .462/.483/.654 line in 30 plate appearances. That is obviously a small sample size and the hope is that his fastball-cutter-changeup-curveball arsenal will look better over time. On the other hand, he also had troubles with lefties in 2014 at Triple-A and his overall numbers actually overstate his competence because he looked better in relief. The long layoff won’t help matters either.

The Rays did call up a backup plan to work behind Andriese in Andrew Bellatti. Bellatti, who will be the first member of the Rays’ 2009 draft class to make the majors with the team, will be a fascinating pitcher to watch in his big league debut. A reliever from 2012 to 2014, Bellatti impressed the Rays enough that they moved him back to the rotation in his first Triple-A exposure. The experiment went extremely well as Bellatti pitched to a 2.11 ERA and a 20-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 21.1 innings to begin the season.

Bellatti went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft this year–it is not as though anyone considered him a top prospect entering the year. However, he always had relief potential between his low-90’s fastball, excellent slider, and solid changeup, and the fact that he showed enough to get a chance to start says a lot about the progress he has made. Bellatti will be ready in long relief behind Andriese, and if were to pitch behind him and do well, it would be interesting to see whether it would he would get an opportunity to start on May 14th against the Yankees.

Luckily for the Tampa Bay Rays, it sounds like Jake Odorizzi is feeling better and will start on Sunday. If he does take the ball, then the Rays won’t need any more rotation decisions for a few days. Alex Colome will start on Monday against New York, Chris Archer on Tuesday, and Nate Karns on Wednesday before Drew Smyly’s spot comes up again. If Andriese and Bellatti pitch well, they could stick around, and it seems like at least one of them will.

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The Rays are currently carrying 13 pitchers versus 12 position players after Jake Elmore was optioned to Triple-A, and they may want to change that at some point. Especially if Andriese and Bellatti pitch long enough to be unavailable for a few days, the Rays may decide to demote one of them in favor of a 40-man roster position player like Mikie Mahtook (assuming Nick Franklin isn’t ready yet). Given how good Bellatti has looked this year, it seems highly unlikely that he will be designated for assignment for a non-roster player, although the Rays could DFA Elmore if they so choose.

Bellatti may be the better bet to stick around given that he (hopefully) will not be needed for too many pitches and is used to being a reliever. The Rays could also prepare Erasmo Ramirez to start on Thursday if they start using Bellatti in a more conventional bullpen role (and, of course, believe that Ramirez’s next start will go better given his rebound in relief). We know how much the Rays love versatility, and Bellatti is a versatile pitcher. That could help him ensure that his first stint in the big leagues lasts at least a few days instead of just one.

The Tampa Bay Rays are up against more injury issues afflicting their starting pitchers, but the fact that Odorizzi will miss just one day makes the situation a lot better and they have options to replace Smyly for the short-term. They had the depth to survive the loss of even more starters than this, and they will mix and match until they figure out a way to fill their fifth starter spot adequately until Matt Moore returns.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Nick Franklin, Jake McGee Impress in Rehab